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Businesses can profit from 'natural capital'

The forests of Java and other biodiversity hotspots can have an economic benefit in their preservation.
The forests of Java and other biodiversity hotspots can have an economic benefit in their preservation.
  • Business can profit from protecting biodiversity, says new report
  • Surveyed CEOs in biodiversity-rich countries said nature loss could hit growth
  • Consumers also more aware of importance of biodiversity, according to report

(CNN) -- It's not just animals and plants that can flourish by protecting biodiversity but the bottom line of businesses, according to a new report.

The survey conducted by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) highlighted the importance of "natural capital" to companies in biodiversity-rich developing economies.

Over 50 percent of the CEOs surveyed in Latin America and 45 percent in Africa see the decline in biodiversity as a challenge to business growth, according to the report.

In contrast less that 20 percent of the surveyed business leaders in Western Europe shared the same concern.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), biodiversity loss can be blamed on habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change, and despite some local success stories, the rate of loss does not appear to be slowing.

Click here to see a map of the world's biodiversity hotspots

Estimates by UK consultancy Trucost working on behalf of the U.N.'s Principles for Responsible Investment suggest that the negative environmental impact of the world's top 3,000 listed companies total around $2.2 trillion annually.

The economic importance of biodiversity is emerging from the invisible into the visible spectrum.
--Pavan Sukhdev, UNEP

If the survey indicates that those sitting in boardrooms are aware of the importance of protecting biodiversity, consumers are also increasingly conscious of protecting areas rich in plant and animal species.

Another TEEB survey found that 60 percent of those questioned in the U.S. and Europe and over 90 percent in Brazil were aware of biodiversity loss. Over 80 percent of those consumers surveyed said they would stop buying products from companies that disregard ethical considerations in their sourcing practices.

Market opportunities for certified forest products and conservation grade or organic produce are predicted to grow by 200 percent and around 400 percent respectively by 2020, according to the TEEB for Business report.

"The economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystems is emerging from the invisible into the visible spectrum," said Pavan Sukhdev, TEEB study leader and head of the U.N. Environment Program's Green Economy Initiative, in a press statement.

"It is clear that some companies in some sectors and on some continents are hearing and acting on that message in order to build more sustainable, 21st century businesses."

Joshua Bishop, chief economist at the IUCN, believes that companies that don't take environmental factors into consideration will be out of step with consumer concerns and profit margins.

"Smart business leaders realize that integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services in their value chains can generate substantial cost savings and new revenues," he said in a press statement.

"Better accounting of business impacts on biodiversity -- both positive and negative -- is essential to spur change in business investment and operations."

Click here to have your say and join CNN's debate on biodiversity taking place in August.